How 2021 will further accelerate the shift to streaming
By Romain Rossi, SVP video experiences, Deltatre
This year has seen the momentum surrounding sports streaming build substantially. While the past 12 months have been tumultuous for many reasons, the pace of change has accelerated and trends that were emerging are now an imperative part of the strategy of any sports rights holder or broadcaster.
For several years, it has been a necessity for those organisations to reprioritise and refocus their efforts on digital fan engagement, while recognising the importance of truly understanding fan behaviour, to inform both engagement and monetisation strategies.
While that has taken on even greater significance now, organisations that had that essence at the core of their offering were already reaping the benefits of an enhanced connection to their fans.
It has become clear that the shift from a solely linear offering to an online model (or a mix of the two) is accelerating, and organisations must react to the changing demands and preferences of their ardent and casual fans. As such, looking to 2021, I anticipate the move to re-evaluate and prioritise their streaming offering will quicken.
Maintaining the fan connection
Although there has been welcome news about plans to gradually facilitate the return of supporters to stadiums across the UK, Europe and the US, we know that many larger stadiums will not be full to capacity for a long time yet. In which case, only a small fraction of fans will attend games in person.
For those clubs with sizable fanbases, this means that the challenge to maintain a close connection and bond with supporters will remain. It’s quite possible that after such a long time away from stadiums, fans will begin to feel a little distant and separated, not just from the action on the pitch, but from the clubs and players more generally – not to mention other like-minded supporters. After all, so often it is the power of a shared communal experience that elevates sport above other activities.
Clubs and leagues have to implement strategies that participate in rebuilding that connection, encouraging greater interaction, especially from a digital standpoint. This means an emphasis on products and services that offer enhanced personalisation and prioritise editorial freedom. This, of course, depends on unique design, UX, a strong content offering, a true understanding of what fans want and a clear plan on how to interact with those users, or to enable them to interact with one another.
One obvious example of this that has already been executed well is the emergence of ‘watch together’ features, which I would expect to develop in a more concerted way in 2021. Think of the success that BT Sport has had with augmenting the match day experience in this way. Of course, as broadcasters and rights holders adjust to the opportunities afforded by 5G technology, these trends will gather even greater pace.
Packed 2021 schedule
All being well, we can look forward to a full 2021 sporting schedule, with rearranged events supplementing the usual calendar. While this is obviously very exciting for the sport lover, it does throw up challenges for the relevant sports organisations and broadcasters. With so much going on, how can they best appeal to fans and win their attention? And how can they ensure their service and viewing experience is unique, while serving the needs of the viewer?
For those ‘smaller’ sports, perhaps no longer guaranteed an unobstructed weekend in the sun, there may be a need to reconsider digital strategies to ensure that the maximum number of viewers are reached.
Once again, the winners here will be those that prioritise and truly understand the power of interactivity and the related relationship with fans.
For example, on a busy weekend with conflicting tournaments and championships, perhaps a viewer does not have time to sit down and watch an event stretched over multiple hours. They might want to log-on halfway through a game and have the ability to create their own highlights reel from an interactive timeline, before moving to live coverage. Similarly, perhaps a viewer is only interested in one player in a tournament – the service presented to that user should reflect that, directing them to that player’s best moments, interviews, behind the scenes content and so on.
The ability to shape a personalised viewing experience is key. Whether that is giving viewers the opportunity to enjoy real-time data visualisations, picture-in-picture capabilities or key moment discoverability, the aim is to put the viewer in control.
Here, once again, OTT has several advantages and capabilities that traditional linear doesn’t, not least for the obvious reason that there is infinite space for concurrent broadcasts with OTT. More importantly, however, there is the flexibility to adapt to the viewer’s preferences and tribal nature. While linear coverage needs to be more all-encompassing and inclusive of all teams or players in a competition, OTT services can be far more direct in their targeting and content offering. Of course, there is a need for broadcasters and rights holders to go where the audience predominantly is, and that remains linear, but there is evidence its dominance is eroding. Take this recent Ofcom report, prepared by Kantar, which explores linear vs. non-linear viewing habits – particularly how preferences are changing among younger consumers.
In a nutshell, you do not get the same opportunities to differentiate, personalise and target with linear, whereas an OTT offering allows you to do this and more. Therefore, looking ahead, I believe it is inevitable that the move to streaming services will accelerate.